East Hampton Town Supervisor Larry Cantwell has begun working with a number of other officials on revising the town’s gatherings law, with an eye toward controlling the burgeoning nightlife scene in Montauk. Meanwhile, a committee asked to study taxicab operations, including rabid price-gouging, has been revitalized. The work is long overdue, and but part of what it will take to make the easternmost hamlet a little less of a no-holds-barred party destination for summer 2014.
Town Hall faces a considerable obstacle in the form of precedents allowed by the previous administration’s approval of huge outdoor events and the questionable conversion of several old-time motels into swank and far-larger social hubs. Among these was the over-the-top analysis supported by the then-town attorney’s office that the former Ronjo Motel in Montauk’s downtown could not only have a bar, but could operate with hundreds of people on the premises at all hours, far more than its handful of guestrooms could accommodate.
Now it is rumored that the new owner of at least one other Montauk motel may hope to go the nightclub route, and there are surely others watching closely to see just how far they too could push matters. East Hampton Town should push back — hard. Now is the time for officials and residents alike to shift the balance away from the handful of business owners who put making a buck ahead of community.
One key area the town board should look into is new rules about outdoor occupancy. Places like Montauk’s Sloppy Tuna, Surf Lodge, Ruschmeyer’s, and the Montauk Beach House, and Cyril’s Fish House on Napeague, are, under current rules, essentially allowed to pack as many people as they can onto their properties. This has prompted season after season of noise complaints from neighbors and litter and congestion problems. Setting limits consistent with each business’s ability to provide off-street parking would be a good starting place.
As to the beaches, officials should give serious consideration to banning alcohol consumption where and when lifeguards are present. And they should prohibit unenclosed bonfires within several hundred feet of road ends and along the entire downtown Montauk beach. There are simply too many people here in season, making too much noise and leaving too much of a mess behind. The sooner Town Hall updates the code to accommodate the new reality the better off we all will be.